Friday, October 29, 2010

Playtest Results: Aspects - General Guidelines

We've tackled aspects as contacts and aspects as a way of fleshing out your magical abilities, but that still leaves the broad expanse of everything else. That's a lot of ground to cover, and it contains a lot of possibilities. Thus, it's harder to break into neat little categories. Something I discovered as I began reviewing the aspects that one of my players sent me is that there's such a broad array of possibilities here that its best to provide a better idea of how aspects are supposed to work in broad terms and let the specifics fall out in a case by case basis.

Double Edged
Waaaaaay back in the beginning of this blog I listed some of the components I considered essential to this particular game. Among them were broken characters. In cyberpunk stories everyone's got personal problems, and deep ones. Eventually I decided that instead of creating some sort of disadvantage system, I'd roll the "broken" idea into aspects. Thus aspects give you some cool bonuses, but they also drag you down, and since the only way to power those bonuses is to compel those penalties, you get reason to play those flaws.

The key here is to make the advantage and the drawback revolve around the same theme. The two don't have to have anything in common mechanically, but they should derive from the same source.

Expand Your Character, Not His Abilities
Aspects give you mechanical bonuses, but their real purpose is to make portions of your character's, well, character pop in the game by attaching a mechanic to it, not to jack up your already boosted knacks to even higher levels. Thus you should draw your aspects from who your character is, not what he can do. Yes, a kickass hacker might have a customized commlink that he can really redline, but at that point it's just a bonus and it's boring. But if your hacker was a child prodigy who created a new kind of microprocessor for Renraku, and then fled with the prototype installed in his 'link, that's different. Now the aspect is about his genius and the trouble it caused him. The downside of the aspect could be that Renraku's again located him, either on the Matrix or in the physical world, and they'll be dispatching some Red Samurai shortly.

Be Flexible
In general, aspects give a +2 die bonus to a specific kind of die roll, but it doesn't have to be that way. These are narrative tools, so start with the rule-less description of the aspect. You're writing a mini-story about something to do with your character. From there you can extrapolate the rules as you need. You'll probably need to write some original rules material at some point following this approach. That's perfectly fine.

Something I noticed is that a lot of people assumed that since aspects typically add 2 dice to something when invoked, they must subtract 2 dice when compelled. Not necessarily true. In fact, in most of the aspects I provided to my playtest group didn't inflict any die penalties. They put the characters in difficult situations, either by the reactions of others or forcing destructive behavior on them (that whole "broken" thing again). These kinds of flaws impact the game much more than a simple die penalty, so don't be shy in keeping the drawbacks in the realm of role playing. Unlike traditional flaws which may never come up, the role playing difficulties of aspects have to come up if the player wants that edge point.

Since I work well with examples, here are a few from my game:

Drug "Expert"
You've got a monkey on your back, and his name is Morphine. Somewhere along the way you got hooked on the painkillers you administered to your patients and now you use a whole lot more on yourself than to assist those under your care. However, it's given you a lot of practice in how to best administer the stuff.

Invoke - +2 dice when using painkillers as part of a medical check
Compel - the craving calls and you get high. You'll function at reduced capacity for the remainder of the scene

Warbringer & Peacemaker
This customized pair of pistols was a gift from your fiancĂ©e, before the team got burned and possessed and you had to go on a manhunt to kill those infested. They're high quality and made specifically for you and your smartlink, meaning they just feel "right" when you fire. Unfortunately, you used them extensively when on your manhunt, and they're better known than you are. Someone sees those and they think "team killer."

Invoke - +2 dice when firing the guns
Compel - you've got an awful reputation, and these guns are tied up in that. When this aspect is compelled, someone recognizes the guns, and therefor you. That's the end of any negotiations right there.

You've got yourself a girlfriend. Not just any girlfriend though. She's a serious hottie. Oh yeah, and she's a porn star. She gets around, no, not like that. Well, yes, like that, but in other, more professionally useful ways as well. She knows lots and lots of people, many of whom would love to do things for her, and she's not only got access to money of her own, but can smile up dough out of many adoring men as well. Unfortunately, she knows she's queen of her world right now, and expects to be pampered and treated appropriately, which means you must be ready to drop everything at any time and attend to her.

Invoke - gain +2 on any spending roll. She may serve as a fixer, putting you in contact with others, especially those in the entertainment industry. Finally, if the risk isn't too great, she can do a little work herself, posing as the attractive girl who distracts the guard with flirtatious chatter while the team sneaks past.

Compel - Sasha wants attention in all its forms. Thus she tends to call at odd times, like when you're in the middle of a negotiation or a job. And if you don't respond to her demands right away, you're likely to pay for it, literally. She got all the access codes to your accounts from you a long while ago, and despite your promises to yourself that you'll change your passwords, she always gets the new ones out of you. If you don't give her what she wants when she wants it, you can expect to take a big financial hit as she engages in intensive retail therapy to sooth her hurt feelings. Credit injuries are not out of the question.

Automatic Jack
As the proud owner of a surplus Russian Federation SPk-23 "Stali Bagor" combat-ready human augment, you're used to getting admiring looks and confused stares.

Invoke - Among the savvy, this has a certain chic to it and to the posers, it just says badass milsurp. To say nothing of its vastly over-engineered robust qualities far beyond a modern namby-pamby unit, this thing takes abuse. It is the AK-47 of cyber-limb replacements. When you get hit, you can take an injury to the arm instead of to your meat. It costs 1 edge point per level of injury, and that injury will knock your arm offline, but it can be repaired with much more ease than your body can. 

Compel - Cutting edge? Sure…30 years ago. Its been well used, and its been known to have the occasional minor glitch in use, make the odd noise, etc. To say nothing of the fact of the matter of having an inelegant piece of Soviet technology grafted to your arm, in the wrong circles, it might be considered….gauche. Some call it retro, others call it ancient tech that only gutter runners would stoop to.

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